Trump’s Not the Only One…

…They’ve got populists in Europe, too. And media elites who cry “Populism!” whenever a politically incorrect opinion is uttered, especially about immigration.

Many thanks to JLH for translating this op-ed from Die Welt:

Populism — The Stupidest Insult of All

The reproach of “populism” is curious in terms of democratic theory: populists who call out populists. Do the CDU and SPD not want to be elected? Don’t they also have an eye on “the people”?

by Reinhard K. Sprenger

“Not in charge in one’s own house.” For over 30 years, the old Freudian saying has been interpreted anew by modern behavior analysis. Much attention was given, above all, to the works by Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky about behavior patterns[1] that, in their opinion, were beyond the bounds of reason.

Human actions did not correspond with cool calculation, as these economists saw it. In essence, they claim, the human being is not qualified to make rational decisions.

This critique of rational utility maximizers was eagerly seized upon by political pedagogues. They sensed the opportunity to “scientifically” legitimize their conception of the human being. The ordinary citizen does not know what is good for him. He needs informed leadership — indeed, he has to be protected from himself.

No one has expressed this as baldly as Hillary Clinton: “We can’t expect our people to make the right choices.”

No Proper Democracies

One of the most recent applications of this portrait of humanity is the verdict: “Populism!” This handy accusation excommunicates anyone who does not conform obediently to the politically correct spiral of silence.

An argument that could be found in the program of the AfD or the Swiss SVP is no argument at all. It is grounds for icy silence, for an embarrassed looking away, or possibly talk-show-worthy indignation. Anyone who offers it is unworthy of contending with. More likely, a little bit nuts, not up to the complexity, stuck in a rightist corner where thinking has ceased and from which there is no escape.

And most important, populism rules there. There are no real democrats bopping around there, just fake democrats who only count votes. They are hard to distinguish from the real, normal democrats who give weight to votes. The former are dull idiots; the latter have a privileged access to truth.

The Populism Insult is Curious

People who often spend time abroad read everywhere about the same conceptual figure: the Swiss SVP, the French Front National, the Austrian FPÖ, the Dutch PVV, Trump — those are all resentful populists who are “leading the people down the garden path,” whom the “little” people follow like lemmings, allowing themselves to be deceived by simplistic mottoes and led astray. They only want to wipe out the “establishment,” criticize, never cooperate constructively.

Just count the articles published in recent months that warn of the increased influence of direct democracy in Germany. The tenor is: Triumph of Resentment! Tyranny of the Majority! Reactive Expressionism! As if Switzerland were an anarchic madhouse.

And yet the reproach of “populism” is curious in terms of democratic theory: populists who call out populists. Do the CDU and SPD not want to be elected? Don’t they also have an eye on “the people”? Wouldn’t more democratic acceptance of EU decisions be a good thing?

Are voters who do not stick to traditional choices just defiant children? Or do they have reasons to reject policies which will in future questions cancel out the people’s sovereignty? Quite rational reasons?

An Attack on Democracy

If we recognize that human beings always act in their own interests (not necessarily egotistically!), that they do not have only material motives, but make feelings-based economic calculations, have social preferences — then these internally informed reasons are quite rational. And we should be interested in those reasons.

What claims are hidden behind the hostility to Free Trade Agreements, the Welcoming Culture, the EU, burkas and same-sex marriage? It is not necessary to like the protagonists of these claims, nor share their philosophy and certainly not to wish for the consequences of their suggestions for action.

Their autocratic crusade for protection of “true” democracy and a homogenized “people” is presumptuous. But behind the reproach that they are populist is the precarious distinction between good, normatively rated voters and bad voters who are just numbers.

It is a distinction that says the reasons of this latter category of voters are not to be taken seriously. And this distinction militates against a liberal discourse and damages the rules of a community based not on consent, but on dissent. That is truly an attack on democracy.


1. “Prospect Theory” 1979 in Econamerica.

Photo: “A poke in the eye of political failures”: For many, the AfD is a populist party.

14 thoughts on “Trump’s Not the Only One…

  1. The first time I became aware of the word “populism,” it was used by Barosso, when he was president of the European Commission to warn heads of constituent EU states to beware of it. In the context it was used, I got the impression that Maoist Barosso was actually saying, “Beware of democracy.” He was telling heads of state not to take notice of the people they purported to represent and to ignore their wishes.

    This shameful attitude has become typical of that demonstrated by western ruling elites who assume that they have the right to dictate to the electorate and take unilateral action for which they have no mandate (ie Tony Blair’s open door. immigration policy).

    The last illustration of this execrable viewpoint of which I was aware surfaced when several Eurocrats criticised David Cameron for “allowing” the UK Brexit referendum. They conveniently ignored the fact that the referendum was a manifesto commitment and Cameron would not have been elected without it.

    The EU is undemocratic, unaccountable and corrupt and I sincerely hope that it implodes sooner rather than later preferably before the Brexit negotiations have been concluded.

  2. Ah, yes. The “fruitcakes” and “swivel-eyed loons” insults of David Cameron, former Prime Minister of GB, towards the supporters of chief Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage. Oh, dear. Look what happened. More than 17 million votes for Brexit (52%) and goodbye Mr. Cameron.
    The anti-democrats will try all sorts of tricks. In GB, the ‘independent’ Electoral Reform Society extended the voting deadline so more young pro-remainers could cast their ballots. Austria is trying to delay the presidential election to thwart Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party. This after postal voting ‘mistakes’ which gave the role to the EU-preferred candidate first time round. There are rumours that France may attempt to delay its presidential election to stop Marine Le Pen.
    Come on, voters of Europe. Stand for democracy. GB has shown it IS possible.

  3. I would vote for a populist every day of the week. In the UK take the example of the porcine, parsimonious, pathetic Cameron. A PR man, without a proper job to his name entered Parliament in 2001, became Tory leader 4 years later ( he knew where his bacon lay) and subsequently PM after a short spell in opposition. Once he lost the trappings of power, post BREXIT, despite all his fine speeches, he has abandoned his constituents to follow the money! Criminally he was allowed to reward his cronies with titles and promotions to the House of Lords (costing the tax payers millions) before departing the political scene. A reprehensible Toff.
    Representative of the political status quo, a self seeking politico whose legacy will be the man who (unwittingly and unwillingly) took the UK out of the EU, the Libya debacle, and allegedly engaging in sexual congress with the head of a dead pig. Yet like Blair ( a war criminal) before him he will become a rich plutocrat, with directorships, memoirs, and speeches to fawning acolytes having left the UK the most socially and fiscally divided nation in the western world.

    Give me a Nigel Farage, a Marine Le Pen or a Geert Wilders anytime, populist they maybe but deserve their chance, they certainly cannot be any worse!

  4. Yes, ‘populist’ means a democratic expression of political sentiments that are a threat to the privileged position of the ruling oligarchy, Brexit, of course is the prime example. I actually heard a ‘city banker’, say in an interview, that EU membership is too important to be subject to a democratic vote! The so-called ‘referendum’ is not legally binding, so there will be another and another, until the plebs vote ‘correctly’, ie to stay in the EU. Or the popular vote will be ignored, if the people are recalcitrant.

  5. Our politicians fighting against democracy is anti-social in the extreme. Their actions could never thus be based on altruism or the greater good of communities, nations or humanity. Their actions are based on small, self centred reasoning.

    Why would we choose to be ruled in this way, by deeply flawed individuals leading us down the path to ruin (just so long as they personally gain).

  6. This is the worst insult after all. I am sick of Killary and I do hope she dies in a coughing fit. and then there is this.

    “The ordinary citizen does not know what is good for him. He needs informed leadership…”

    Well that is the biggest insult of all. I think we are approaching “off with their heads” time. IMO, the “average” citizen is just as smart, if not smarter, than the “average” politician. Politicians are in it for the money and the power. The rest of us are just trying to make a living and live our “little” lives — so get out of the way already.

  7. And you wonder why L. Frank Baum characterized us Main Street folk as “Little People” who only worked and ate (munched) and then called us Munchkins, because that is what we were/are in the sight of the Elite. It has been 120 years since the Wizard of Oz (ounce, Baum was a Free Silver advocate) was written. Nothing has changed except for the interruption of two global scale wars. The primrose path that the elites refer to is the very path they are leading us down, to perdition and destruction so that they can have this planet as their own private theme park staffed with the likes of us as serfs in chattel bondage, but you already knew that.

  8. Hillary Clinton: “We can’t expect our people to make the right choices.”

    I just put that phrase into Google and it returned almost nothing but pro-Hilary articles, (the GoV piece above because of course it matches the keywords but it wasn’t even the top link)
    But put it in another search engine, say Yahoo and the first link is to a compendium of Hilary’s outbursts and elitist arrogance;
    Google propagandises for Hilary.

    Meanwhile Google and several Western governments also, in order to counter Islamic extremism, use the fabled ‘right-wing extremist’ as a balance.
    “Hearts & minds: Google-run project to tackle ISIS propaganda, target US far right”
    Likely it will be similar percentages to the counter-extremist programme in British schools;
    “70 per cent of those referred were suspected of being drawn into Islamist movements, whereas just 15 per cent were linked to the far right.”
    And what constitutes the far-right? in many cases it can be standing up to Islamic fascism or just telling the truth about Islam, because in the Great Leap Backwards, telling the truth can be a hate-crime.

    In order to burnish their ‘equality’ credentials Google can’t just go after Islamists and the progressive canard is to equate critics of Islam and Sharia as the other side of the Islamist/pro-Sharia coin.
    So by going after Islamists they risk being called Islamophobic and being referred to their own programme, such is the convoluted mess the West has gotten itself into, trying to accommodate a fascist ideology like Islam.

    • More often than not, a consensus of people is more often right than any politician, no matter how good they are.

  9. “I have never been able to see how a thirty-year-old moron can vote more wisely than a fifteen-year-old genius . . . but that was the age of the ‘divine right of the common man.’ Never mind, they paid for their folly.” – Heinlein, Starship Troopers.

    Voting needs a census, period. In fact it already has: children and mentally unstable do not vote, though it seems like they do.
    Census should be smart and serve a purpose. For example, only those who pay taxes can vote. Or who pay taxes and have children. Democracy should serve the people who contribute to economy the most, because in the end of the day what state does is wealth redistribution. The people who contribute the most should benefit from it.

    • I’m a great fan of Heinlein, Hell Awaits, but superior intellect or education does not confer higher moral standards or even wisdom. Otherwise (at the risk of being patronising) we Brits would not have voted to leave the EU!

      A shame that Paul Verhoeven’s film of “Starship Troopers” (the only Heinlein novel to be filmed, to my knowledge), while well executed in its own terms, took a satirical stance.

  10. Populism in it’s purist form is direct democracy. So the people can vote on anything. They can vote on your basic rights. Whether or not you shall have the right to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to own guns, freedom to own more than one car, etc. I think populism, as many people understand it, is a reflection of the will of the people. Which would not necessarily be the same thing. I prefer a republic where fundamental rights are beyond voter approval or disapproval. The desires of the people are oftentimes very fickle.

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